House Renews Landmark Violence Against Women Act, 244-172
On Wednesday, the House renewed the Violence Against Women Act, adding firearm restrictions for convicted domestic abusers and other new provisions to a landmark law that has helped combat domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking which expired in 2019.
As a senator in 1994, President Joe Biden wrote the law into existence and prioritized strengthening it during his presidential term.
The House’s 244-172 vote was bipartisan, with 29 Republicans joining united Democrats to approve the bill. In a statement after the vote, Biden urged the Senate to “bring a string bipartisan coalition together” to send him a bill to sign into law as soon as possible.
“Growing evidence shows that Covid-19 has only exacerbated the threat of intimate partner violence, creating a pandemic within a pandemic for countless women at risk for abuse,” Biden said. “This should not be a Democratic or Republican issue. It’s about standing up against the abuse of power and preventing violence.”
The House’s update to the Violence Against Women Act, commonly known as VAWA, is noncontroversial. It would build a patchwork of programs like violence prevention and housing assistance for abuse victims, reaffirm legal protections for victims and their families, and more aggressively target resources to minority communities.
Democrats have also included provisions tightening access to firearms by people convicted of a violent crime or subject to a court order and expanding protections for gay, bisexual and transgender people.
In an attempt to cut into high rates of domestic violence against Native American women, their bill would grant tribal courts new authority to prosecute non-Indians for sex trafficking, sexual violence and stalking.
“This bill opens the door of the armor of the federal government and its protection of women who continue to lose their life and men,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, (D-Texas) and one of its principal authors. “Yes, it is a culturally sensitive initiative that protects immigrant women, it protects Native Americans, it protects poor women.”
On the House floor on Wednesday, several conservatives accused the majority of using a law meant to protect women as a Trojan horse for a “far-left political agenda” on gun control and gay and transgender rights while holding hostage a clean reauthorization of the bill.
“The most egregious provisions of this bill push leftist gender ideology at the expense of important protections for women’s privacy and safety,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko (R- Arizona), who recounted her own experience with domestic violence. “If this bill is enacted, these shelters under penalty of federal law would be required to take in men and shelter them with women, putting vulnerable women at risk.”